CORALVILLE, IA – With 4,017 fans nearly packing Xtreme Arena on Friday night, the Iowa Heartlanders made their ECHL debut, and they made it one to remember, dominating the Kansas City Mavericks in a 7-4 victory. Kris Bennett and Billy Constantinou each scored two goals for Iowa. Bennett finished with three assists.
The Heartlanders got off to a great start, taking the lead just 25 seconds into contest. Kansas City won the draw, quickly moving into the Iowa end, but the Heartlanders were able to gain possession, moving out of their zone on a fast break. Jake Linhart carried the puck through the neutral zone and into the Kansas City end. Linhart passed the puck across the slot to Bennett, who initially fanned on a shot, but regained control of the puck, passing in front. It hit off a skate, bouncing out in front to Ryan Kuffner who stuffed in the shot for his first goal, giving the Iowa Heartlanders their first goal in franchise history.
Less than three minutes later, the Heartlanders were back on the board. A great feed from Adrien Beraldo through the neutral zone sent Jack Billings in on a breakaway. Mavericks goaltender Angus Redmond was able to make the initial save, but the puck crept through his pads, trickling behind him. Billings alertly reached back as he was about the cross the goal line, pulling the puck into the net for his first tally of the year, and the Xtreme Arena crowd was rocking.
The two-goal lead held thanks to Heartlanders netminder Hunter Jones who made a couple of big saves following the second goal. One was a point-blank attempt by Darik Angeli.
At 11:48, the Mavericks were able to get on the board. While on the power-play, Angeli moved the puck back to Marcus Crawford at the point who dealt it to Greg Moro near the left boards just above the faceoff circle. Moro fired a shot that slipped past Jones to cut the Mavericks deficit to one.
Kansas City looked like they would tie the score with seconds left in the first when Jones made a save but the puck went to the opposite side of the net, right to Jesse Mychan. Mychan had a wide-open net, as Jones was on the other side of the net, but Riese Zmolek slid in front to block the shot, saving the goal.
Both teams had good scoring chances early in the second period, but it would be the Heartlanders extending the lead at 6:23 when Redmond made a bad giveaway in his own end. The puck was directed to Redmond, who simply pushed it toward the left faceoff circle, but right onto the stick of Kuffner. He moved in, then fired a perfect pass to Bennett in the slot, who blasted the one-timer by the Mavericks goalie for his first goal of the year, restoring the two-goal lead.
Moments later, another bad giveaway near the blueline sent Bennett in on a breakaway, but Redmond made a fine pad save on the slapshot attempt to keep this a two-goal game.
At 8:23, the Heartlanders extended their lead to three. Kaid Oliver knocked the puck away from the Mavericks defenseman, back to Constantinou who was entering the zone. Constantinou swept across the slot, firing a shot that Redmond saved, but the rebound came back to Constantinou as he continued toward the other side of the goal. He regained control, firing a shot that went just inside the post to make it a 4-1 Iowa lead.
A beautiful setup by Kansas City helped the Mavericks cut the deficit to two. Westin Michaud had the puck near the right side of the goal and patiently waited for Ryan Olsen to crash the net before making a great cross-crease pass to Olsen who redirected the puck past Jones for his first goal of the year.
With 5:28 left in the second, Fedor Gordeev extended the lead with a great individual effort. Gordeev gained control of the puck just inside the Mavericks end. He held off a defender as he swept across the high slot, controlling the puck with one hand. As he got to the other side, he was able to slide the puck past Redmond to restore the three-goal lead.
Kansas City trailed 5-2 and had been dominated for the most part, outshot 21-15 through the first two periods, but they got on the board just one minute into the second. Oliver was trying to clear the puck out of his own end, but fed it right to Lane Scheidl, who blasted a slapshot by Jones to cut the Mavericks deficit to two.
The Mavericks excitement did not last long as Constantinou extended the Iowa lead back to three a little over three minutes later. Tyler Mosienko had the puck near the side of the net, passing it back to Constantinou at the point. He wound up, blasting a slapshot that found the five-hole for his second goal of the game.
Kansas City refused to quit and got back on the board at 7:28 to cut the Heartlanders lead back to two. Loren Ultett stole the puck just outside the Iowa blueline, then moved in, firing a slapslot that beat Jones to the glove side.
The Heartlanders nearly extended their lead back to three with three minutes left in the game when Gordeev fired a shot into a near-empty net that found the upper corner. However, the tally was immediately waived off as Redmond had clearly been obstructed by an Iowa player.
However, Iowa would score their seventh goal of the night, as Bennett added an empty-net tally with 2:26 left in the contest, his second goal of the game. That made it 7-4, which was the final.
Jones finished with 23 saves. Bennett finished with two goals and an assist. Besides the two goals by Constantinou, Linhart also had two points, recording two assists. Kuffner had two points as well, recording a goal and an assist. Nine different players found the score sheet for Iowa.
Kansas City was led by Crawford with two assists. Four different players had a goal.
These two teams will travel down the highway, squaring off in Independence on Saturday evening. The puck drops at 7:05 p.m.
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